Gerardo Martino’s side never really got going. It was all a bit flat from the South Americans while Kiwis coach Ricki Herbert was clearly happy for his side to go as long as they can without conceding before taking stock of events elsewhere in the closing moments.
Martino’s Group F leader’s Paraguay knew that a result over the World Cup’s surprise package New Zealand would secure their position as group winners, and the draw means they avoid the prospect of facing the Netherlands in the second round.
Paraguay’s first real chance came from a corner on the hour mark. Taken short, Caniza clipped the ball across for Riveros to header straight at Paston from 10 yards before New Zealand frantically scrambled the ball wide for a corner.
Martino was becoming visibly frustrated with his side’s insipid display and re-introduced Barrios five minutes later along with the super-sub of their qualification campaign, Edgar Benitez. Cardozo and Valdez departed and the subs made an instant impact, combining with Santa Cruz before Barrios’ shot flashed wide. It was the first time the Paraguayans had pushed the New Zealand defence onto the back-foot and the Kiwis were visibly unsettled by the pace with which their opponents broke.
Barrios should have won the game for his side after Benitez worked enough space for himself inside the box to curl a shot for the far corner; Pastos got down well to save and, first to the rebound, Barrios should have tucked the ball into the empty net but seemed to get it caught under his feet, giving Pastos enough time to smother his weak effort. The two subs again combined with ten minutes left when Benitez crossed for Barrios to head wide at the far post.
Woods did eventually arrive for the Kiwis and it was he who came closest to grabbing the goal that would take them through. Playing right on the shoulder of Julio Cesar Caceres, there was brief moment of excitement for the minnows as the youngster broke free of his marker to come within inches of converting a Smeltz cross; however, the offside flag quickly restored the gloom.
Most disappointingly, the Kiwis, fully aware that victory would take them through to the second round, never really showed any endeavour. Even in the closing stages, only Woods really seemed interested in pushing forward. However, Herbert will be proud of his men, bank clerks and all. They can take pride in not only remaining unbeaten, but finishing above the World Champions.
For Martino, thins will have to improve if his side wish to make the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.